Thursday, October 08, 2009

The stories we tell ourselves

Beautiful Weeds 3I ran across an article in Psychology Today while waiting for a friend at the Medfield Public Library last weekend.  In it, author Michael Yapko discusses the social aspects of depression and alleges there are a number of factors that weigh in to the issue much more heavily than genetics.

The article was interesting – I highly recommend it.  One piece in particular hasn’t let go of my attention.

Yapko refers to one of the factors he discusses as one’s “explanatory style” and defines it as “the meaning we attach to life experiences”.   When explaining how a parent’s explanatory style can influence a child’s, he uses the following example to make his point:

"Why didn't Uncle Bob come to the picnic, Mom?" There's a world of difference between "He must be mad at me" and " I don't know, the next time we talk to Uncle Bob let's ask him."

In May, I wrote about the stories we tell ourselves in response to events for which we may never know the outcome.  Perhaps this is an aspect of explanatory style?  If this is the case, then we should probably pay more attention to the stories we tell ourselves about what has happened to us in the past and what is currently taking place.

The first story I ever told as a storyteller was titled “Beauty and the Bell Pepper”.   This story is about a time I was accidentally forced to revisit two things that were true for me as a kid only to discover they were no longer true for me as an adult.  It's obvious when you've outgrown a pair of shoes you wear every day - when you try them on one morning, they won't fit. But how can you tell if you've outgrown a belief or preference, especially if it's one you haven't tried on in a while?

If you haven’t ever done so:

  • Re-watch a movie you thought was horrendously scary as a kid
  • Sit in a grade-school desk
  • Eat a meal that would have made your childhood self turn green

And then sit with a few of the stories you tell yourself about your childhood to see if any of them have changed as a result of your empathetic, adult attention.

I carpooled with Andrea the other day on our way to a storytelling performance.  We took a wrong turn at some point, which altered our route.  Later, when we came across something cool on the road, Andrea sung praise: “We would have missed out if we hadn’t made the wrong turn.” 

A ski instructor once told me to look in the direction I wanted to be moving as my body would naturally follow.  Although I don’t know if this is true, as I never quite mastered the art of skiing, I’ll instruct you to do the same when bringing your adult sensibilities to stories about your present:  Look toward something positive.



Alyssa said...

Part of the happiness project has been working on my explanatory style, because I definitely tend towards the pessimistic. It's amazing what a difference it makes though!

Who Elsa? said...

Alyssa -- there were actually two stories you've shared over the last couple of years that I soooo wanted to include snippets of because they make the point perfectly. But I was writing too late in the day to call and ask you if it would be okay...

AlwaysJoy said...

Elsa -
It is true in skiing and even moreso in horse back riding look where you want the horse to go and he will go there... Don't look at the obstacles in the way. If you watch a jumping competition (I recommend it) watch the rider's head midway through the air they are looking at the next jump even if it's beside or slightly behind them.


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